Ranking Washington Redskins' Best Individual Performances Through 11 Weeks
There have been more than a few solid showings despite Washington's losing record. In particular, the team's offensive line and quarterback shone during consecutive wins in Week 2 and 3, back in the halcyon days when the playoffs seemed a realistic goal.
The Redskins' chances of playing postseason football probably faded for good after the 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints on the road in Week 11. Even so, the Burgundy and Gold still received some fine individual performances in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with rookie running back Samaje Perine enjoying a breakout day.
Kirk Cousins also thrived against the Saints, posting a fifth 300-yard passing performance this season.
Read on for a ranking of Washington's 10 best individual performances through 11 weeks.
Week 1: Ryan Kerrigan vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Not many members of the Redskins emerged with any credit after Week 1's defeat to NFC East rivals the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField. Ryan Kerrigan was one of the few who produced, making an impact as both a pass-rusher and coverage defender.
Washington's most talented defensive playmaker was in on a sack of Carson Wentz. Kerrigan also broke up one pass, before intercepting another and taking it 24 yards to the house.
Kerrigan has always had a flair for the big play since returning an interception for six against Eli Manning and the New York Giants on his debut in his rookie season back in 2011. Delivering a highlight reel-worthy play against Big Blue was also a precursor for Kerrigan's happy habit of bossing divisional opponents.
Kerrigan combined both of his core traits against the Eagles to kickstart what has been a spectacular season for No. 91. With three more games against NFC East opponents left on the schedule, Kerrigan's knack for big plays against familiar foes will prove crucial.
Week 2: Offensive Line vs. Los Angeles Rams
The Redskins have spent first- and third-round draft picks since 2010 on bolstering their offensive line. Washington also plucked noted line guru Bill Callahan away from bitter enemy the Dallas Cowboys to coach Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses up.
The franchise did those things to build a bully up front, a physical group capable of dominating the trenches. Washington's plan finally unfolded the way it's supposed to in Week 2 this season against the Los Angeles Rams.
A 27-20 win in L.A. was built on Washington's O-line and the way it mauled a talented Rams front seven. The Burgundy and Gold pushed Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Connor Barwin off the ball all day, setting up success both on the ground and through the air.
Knocking people off the ball in the running game translated to 229 rushing yards. Three Redskins runners, Rob Kelley, Perine and Chris Thompson, each topped 65 yards.
Keeping a clean pass pocket also let Cousins make key throws in the clutch. The most notable was the game-winning 11-yard touchdown connection with Ryan Grant late in the fourth quarter.
Keeping Cousins clean was no small feat against a stable of pass-rushers led by Quinn, Barwin and Donald. Yet despite the big names and the pressure schemes of coordinator Wade Phillips, the Rams defense only sacked Cousins twice and didn't get near him when it mattered most.
The Redskins have rarely had all five of their starting linemen healthy during a season defined by injuries. Performances like this one make the absences even tougher to take.
Week 11: Kirk Cousins vs. New Orleans Saints
Only a shambles late in the day from his defense prevented Cousins from outgunning Drew Brees in New Orleans this week. Washington's quarterback was close to flawless through four quarters and overtime, despite taking some vicious hits and working with a depleted supporting cast.
One of the biggest hits came when Cousins was decked at the end of a scramble in the third quarter, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk. The blow to the head didn't slow Cousins, though, as he soon returned to the field and connected with Ryan Grant on a 40-yard touchdown pass.
Cousins had proved his toughness, but it wasn't the most impressive thing about his day or his season.
As Alper noted, Thompson was carted off the field after suffering a leg injury on the same play Cousins was hit. After the game, head coach Jay Gruden confirmed Thompson has a broken fibula, per ESPN.com's John Keim.
It means Cousins is set to be without yet another key playmaker. He was already missing clutch tight end Jordan Reed against the Saints.
Reed's absence further compounded Washington's inability to adequately replace DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Cousins' two 1,000-yard wide receivers from last season left in free agency and Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor Sr. have struggled to fill the void, leaving Cousins lacking the reliable, big-play targets he needs.
As NFL Network's Dan Hellie put it, Cousins is doing a lot with not very much in 2017. The argument was lent weight after Cousins threw for 322 yards and a hat-trick of touchdowns in a losing effort against the Saints.
If only he had more to work with.
Week 6: Chris Thompson vs. San Francisco 49ers
Thompson's injury is a bitter pill for the player to swallow since he was putting together a career year. He had spent most of 11 games posing matchup nightmares for defenses thanks to a dynamic set of dual-threat skills.
Thompson showed off his chops as one of the best receivers out of the backfield in the NFL during the narrow home win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6. The 27-year-old caught four passes for 105 yards to provide big plays at key moments against a plucky Niners team playing above themselves despite being winless entering this game.
It was a performance revealing Thompson's true value to Washington's offense. He was a safety valve for Cousins, a checkdown to avoid pressure or turn to when his primary targets were covered.
The 49ers couldn't cover Thompson with linebackers or safeties. Nor could they adjust to his movement pre-snap, with Gruden moving No. 25 out of the backfield to split him out wide.
More important than where he lined up, Thompson showed his penchant for turning short throws into big gains after the catch. He took a screen 23 yards to beat the blitz in the first quarter, before taking another screen 49 yards to convert a 1st-and-22 in the second.
With Garcon and Jackson gone, as well as Reed's injury woes, Thompson emerged as the lone legitimate game-breaker in this season's offense.
Week 9: Kirk Cousins vs. Seattle Seahawks
Engineering a late comeback drive on the road against one of the NFL's toughest defenses is what elevates a quarterback from good to elite. Cousins made the jump when he brought the Redskins back from the brink of defeat against the Seattle Seahawks.
As has been the case for most of the season, circumstances were against Cousins. He had 70 yards to travel in a hostile stadium against a D loaded with game-wreckers, such as Michael Bennett and Frank Clark.
Cousins also had to do it without a full contingent of talent around him, per Percy Allen of the Seattle Times:
"Down four points, Cousins needed to drive 70 yards behind an offensive line missing four starters against a Seattle defense that had sacked him six times and held him to 177 yards on 19-for-28 passing.
"No way Cousins, who had engineered seven fourth-quarter comebacks during his career, upstages Wilson who had done it 23 times — the most since they entered the NFL together in 2012."
Ignoring the unfavorable circumstances, Cousins stood tall in the pocket and delivered precise throws against a secondary still among the best in football. The most notable of those strikes was a 31-yarder to little-used Brian Quick before a 38-yard connection with Doctson.
Kelley scored the game winner on the next play, but the victory owed everything to Cousins' resiliency, accuracy under pressure and ability to hold his nerve late on.
His overall numbers of 247 yards from 21 completions weren't eye-popping, but Cousins proved his mettle as a winner in Seattle, one the Redskins must finally pay come contract time this offseason.
Week 9: Zach Brown vs. Seattle Seahawks
Zach Brown has been a standout member of Washington's revamped front seven for most of the season. His signature performance came during the 17-14 road win over the Seahawks in Week 9 when No. 53 was everywhere and made himself a force in both phases of the game.
Seattle's offense was stifled by Brown, who was in on 11 tackles, including eight solo stops. Brown didn't just snuff out the Seahawks' running game, though.
He also proved disruptive on the blitz, logging a sack on Russell Wilson. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky spent most of the day sending Brown through the A-gaps to knock Wilson off his spot and hurry him into some errant throws in key moments.
The performance showed off everything Brown has brought to Washington's inside linebacker rotation this season. Specifically, he's added true range to the position, showcasing speed and depth in coverage, as well as the athleticism and aggression to attack downhill on the blitz and against the run.
Like the rest of the Redskins' defense, Brown has experienced some shaky moments in recent weeks. Overall, though, his signing can be counted as one of the best moves this franchise made in the offseason.
Week 3: Chris Thompson vs. Oakland Raiders
Thompson's signature game of what was a stellar personal season came in Week 3 against the then-unbeaten Oakland Raiders. One week after rushing for two touchdowns against the Rams, Thompson wrecked the Silver and Black's defense as a receiver.
Six catches tallied 150 yards, including a touchdown, as Thompson regularly proved a mismatch for the Raiders at every level of their coverage schemes.
Sports Illustrated's Max Meyer detailed how Thompson shifted momentum in Washington's favor at crucial moments:
"Thompson scored the game’s first touchdown, a 22-yard trip to pay dirt when he was uncovered on a flare route. He also had the contest’s biggest play and ultimate dagger: With the Raiders fresh off a touchdown drive and the Redskins facing a third-and-19, Thompson turned a screen into a 74-yard scamper. While Washington ultimately settled for a field goal on that drive, Thompson’s huge gain kept the Raiders at bay by turning it into a three-score game in the fourth quarter."
What Thompson did was provide the big gains and clutch plays the Redskins were hoping for more often from Pryor, Doctson and Crowder. Those kind of contributions will be missed with Thompson now on the shelf.
Moving forward, the Redskins will find him impossible to replace during the remaining six games on their schedule. However, it has to be a priority for the franchise to surround Thompson with better talent this offseason.
Week 11: Samaje Perine vs. New Orleans Saints
Perine made the most of being given the starting job in the backfield by trampling all over the Saints for his first 100-plus-yard rushing performance as a pro.
The Redskins wisely turned over the main rushing chores to their fourth-round pick ahead of Week 11, per Associated Press reporter Stephen Whyno. Perine didn't disappoint, as he amassed 117 yards and a score off 23 carries.
Afterward, Gruden pinpointed the core quality that makes Perine the right starter for Washington, per Jake Kring-Schreifels of the team's official website: "Samaje ran hard, man, I was impressed with Samaje’s running style. I figured the type of player he is. He’ll get better with more carries. That’s what he showed today."
In other words, Perine is a workhorse who can be counted on to wear down defenses and handle 20 or more carries each week. The Redskins haven't had this type of back since Alfred Morris was working teams over as a rookie in 2012.
Gruden continuing to put his trust in Perine can help the rookie finally give the Redskins the consistency on the ground they have lacked for too long.
Week 6: Kirk Cousins vs. San Francisco 49ers
If team president Bruce Allen needs a firm argument for finally awarding Cousins the long-term contract he deserves this offseason, he should watch the tape of his performance against the 49ers.
Cousins accounted for all three of the Redskins' touchdowns in Week 6, throwing two scoring passes and rushing for another. His dual-threat skills have been a hallmark of Washington's season, and he was in peak form against the Niners.
In addition to the scoring plays, Cousins passed for 330 yards and added 26 more on the ground. He also spread his passes between 11 different receivers.
Involving multiple pass-catchers has always been a staple of Cousins' game. It's what made him a better choice for the starting job than Robert Griffin III back during Gruden's first year in 2014.
Spreading the passes around, along with offering a threat as a runner, sums up why the Redskins must keep Cousins for the long haul. After two years putting the franchise tag on one of the more capable starting quarterbacks in the league, Allen simply can't drop the ball in negotiations this offseason.
Week 3: Kirk Cousins vs. Oakland Raiders
Cousins played well against San Francisco, but the signature performance of his trying season came in Week 3 during the 27-10 win against the Raiders. Washington's quarterback was imperious, missing on only five of 30 throws and totting up 365 yards through the air, including a trio of touchdowns.
What stood out most about how Cousins dissected the Raiders was how he stretched the field and amassed a series of big gains. Cousins averaged 12.2 yards per completion, a season-high for the six-year pro.
By finding big plays so consistently, Cousins dispelled the notion he is just a nickel-and-dime, chuck-and-duck passer. Instead, Cousins has progressed from a quarterback highly efficient on short throws gifted playmakers can turn into yards after the catch to one who can attack defenses vertically.
The significance of this performance wasn't lost on John Keim of ESPN.com, who noted how Cousins changed perceptions by dominating big-time opposition: "He beat a good team in a prime-time game (much like he did a year ago against the Green Bay Packers) and was the best passer on the field."
This was the high point of both Cousins' and Washington's season. The Redskins haven't reached similar heights since, but at least the brass should know they have a quarterback able to deliver in prime time against teams touted for big things.